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Bonnie Riffle ousted

March 25, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - A three-judge panel Saturday ordered Morgan County Magistrate Bonnie L. Riffle removed from office following her October conviction for falsely reporting that two men attacked her in her office in February 1999.

Riffle had no comment following the hearing in the Morgan County Courthouse.

Her lawyer, Robert C. Stone Jr. of Martinsburg, said Riffle's conviction on five misdemeanor and two felony counts will be appealed. Stone said he will let Riffle decide if she wants to appeal Saturday's decision to remove her from office.

Stone asked the judges to stay their removal order pending the outcome of Riffle's appeal on the criminal convictions, but they put it into effect immediately.

The panel, appointed by the West Virginia Supreme Court, included Robert B. Stone ( no relation to Riffle's lawyer) of the 17th Circuit in Monongalia County, Andrew N. Frye Jr. of Grant, Mineral and Tucker counties, and Lawrance Miller of the 18th circuit in Preston County.

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The judges heard testimony from two state police witnesses during the 2 1/2-hour hearing.

Stone subpoenaed 12 witnesses who testified at Riffle's criminal trial, but the judges refused to allow him to question them concerning their trial testimony.

"We are not going to retry this case today," Stone told Riffle's lawyer.

Nine of the defense witnesses were in court Saturday, but none was called to the stand.

A Morgan County jury in October found Riffle guilty of fabricating a story that two men broke into her office on the night of Feb. 16, 1999 while she was working late. She told police the men grabbed her from behind and demanded money. She also claimed they cut her on the left cheek.

Riffle was convicted on two misdemeanor counts of filing a false incident report and three misdemeanor charges of giving false information to a state trooper.

The two felony counts stem from Riffle's fraudulent attempt to get workers' compensation for her alleged injuries from the attack, according to testimony Saturday.

Circuit Judge Donald Cookman of Hampshire County, W.Va., presided over Riffle's trial. He sentenced her to two 2 1/2-year consecutive prison terms, suspended both, and fined her $1,000 and ordered her to repay $1,690 in workers' compensation benefits.

State law requires that a chief judge of a circuit forward a petition for removal to the Supreme Court and request that three circuit judges hear the case.

Also signing the petition were a Morgan County commissioner, the county assessor, circuit clerk and the sheriff.

The high court appointed a Pendleton County, W.Va., attorney, Jerry Moore, to represent the petitioners in the Riffle case.

Riffle was elected magistrate for her first four-year term in 1992 and won a second term in 1996. She did not seek re-election this year.

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